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Divination by examining parts of the sacrificed animal was much less important than in Roman or Etruscan religion , or Near Eastern religions, but was practiced , especially of the liver, and as part of the cult of Apollo.
Generally, the Greeks put more faith in observing the behaviour of birds. More formal ones might be made onto altars at temples, and other fluids such as olive oil and honey might be used. Although the grand form of sacrifice called the hecatomb meaning bulls might in practice only involve a dozen or so, at large festivals the number of cattle sacrificed could run into the hundreds, and the numbers feasting on them well into the thousands. The evidence of the existence of such practices is clear in some ancient Greek literature, especially in Homer 's epics.
Throughout the poems, the use of the ritual is apparent at banquets where meat is served, in times of danger or before some important endeavor to gain the favor of the gods. For example, in Homer's Odyssey Eumaeus sacrifices a pig with prayer for his unrecognizable master Odysseus. However, in Homer's Iliad , which partly reflects very early Greek civilization, not every banquet of the princes begins with a sacrifice.
These sacrificial practices share much with recorded forms of sacrificial rituals known from later. Furthermore, throughout the poem, special banquets are held whenever gods indicated their presence by some sign or success in war. Before setting out for Troy, this type of animal sacrifice is offered. Odysseus offers Zeus a sacrificial ram in vain.
The occasions of sacrifice in Homer's epic poems may shed some light onto the view of the gods as members of society, rather than as external entities, indicating social ties. Sacrificial rituals played a major role in forming the relationship between humans and the divine. It has been suggested that the Chthonic deities, distinguished from Olympic deities by typically being offered the holocaust mode of sacrifice, where the offering is wholly burnt, may be remnants of the native Pre-Hellenic religion and that many of the Olympian deities may come from the Proto-Greeks who overran the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula in the late third millennium BC.
One rite of passage was the amphidromia , celebrated on the fifth or seventh day after the birth of a child. Childbirth was extremely significant to Athenians, especially if the baby was a boy.
The main Greek temple building sat within a larger precinct or temenos , usually surrounded by a peribolos fence or wall; the whole is usually called a "sanctuary". The Acropolis of Athens is the most famous example, though this was apparently walled as a citadel before a temple was ever built there.
The tenemos might include many subsidiary buildings, sacred groves or springs, animals dedicated to the deity, and sometimes people who had taken sanctuary from the law, which some temples offered, for example to runaway slaves.
The earliest Greek sanctuaries probably lacked temple buildings, though our knowledge of these is limited, and the subject is controversial. A typical early sanctuary seems to have consisted of a tenemos, often around a sacred grove, cave or spring, and perhaps defined only by marker stones at intervals, with an altar for offerings. Many rural sanctuaries probably stayed in this style, but the more popular were gradually able to afford a building to house a cult image, especially in cities.
This process was certainly under way by the 9th century, and probably started earlier. The temple interiors did not serve as meeting places, since the sacrifices and rituals dedicated to the respective deity took place outside them, at altars within the wider precinct of the sanctuary, which might be large.
As the centuries past both the inside of popular temples and the area surrounding them accumulated statues and small shrines or other buildings as gifts, and military trophies, paintings and items in precious metals, effectively turning them into a type of museum. Some sanctuaries offered oracles , people who were believed to receive divine inspiration in answering questions put by pilgrims. The most famous of these by far was the female priestess called the Pythia at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi , and that of Zeus at Dodona , but there were many others.
Some dealt only with medical, agricultural or other specialized matters, and not all represented gods, like that of the hero Trophonius at Livadeia. The temple was the house of the deity it was dedicated to, who in some sense resided in the cult image in the cella or main room inside, normally facing the only door.
The cult image normally took the form of a statue of the deity, typically roughly life-size, but in some cases many times life-size.
In early days these were in wood, marble or terracotta , or in the specially prestigious form of a chryselephantine statue using ivory plaques for the visible parts of the body and gold for the clothes, around a wooden framework.
The most famous Greek cult images were of this type, including the Statue of Zeus at Olympia , and Phidias 's Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon in Athens, both colossal statues, now completely lost. Fragments of two chryselephantine statues from Delphi have been excavated. Bronze cult images were less frequent, at least until Hellenistic times.
The acrolith was another composite form, this time a cost-saving one with a wooden body. A xoanon was a primitive and symbolic wooden image, perhaps comparable to the Hindu lingam ; many of these were retained and revered for their antiquity, even when a new statue was the main cult image. Xoana had the advantage that they were easy to carry in processions at festivals. Many of the Greek statues well known from Roman marble copies were originally temple cult images, which in some cases, such as the Apollo Barberini , can be credibly identified.
A very few actual originals survive, for example, the bronze Piraeus Athena 2. The image stood on a base, from the 5th century often carved with reliefs. It used to be thought that access to the cella of a Greek temple was limited to the priests, and it was entered only rarely and by other visitors, except perhaps during important festivals or other special occasions.
In recent decades this picture has changed, and scholars now stress the variety of local access rules. Pausanias was a gentlemanly traveller of the 2nd-century AD who declares that the special intention of his travels around Greece was to see cult images, and usually managed to do so.
It was typically necessary to make a sacrifice or gift, and some temples restricted access either to certain days of the year, or by class, race, gender with either men or women forbidden , or even more tightly. Garlic-eaters were forbidden in one temple, in another women unless they were virgins; restrictions typically arose from local ideas of ritual purity or a perceived whim of the deity.
In some places visitors were asked to show they spoke Greek; elsewhere Dorians were not allowed entry. Some temples could only be viewed from the threshold. Some temples are said never to be opened at all. But generally Greeks, including slaves, had a reasonable expectation of being allowed into the cella.
Once inside the cella it was possible to pray to or before the cult image, and sometimes to touch it; Cicero saw a bronze image of Heracles with its foot largely worn away by the touch of devotees.
Those who were not satisfied by the public cult of the gods could turn to various mystery religions which operated as cults into which members had to be initiated in order to learn their secrets. Here, they could find religious consolations that traditional religion could not provide: Some of these mysteries, like the mysteries of Eleusis and Samothrace , were ancient and local.
Others were spread from place to place, like the mysteries of Dionysus. During the Hellenistic period and the Roman Empire , exotic mystery religions became widespread, not only in Greece, but all across the empire.
Some of these were new creations, such as Mithras , while others had been practiced for hundreds of years before, like the Egyptian mysteries of Osiris. Mainstream Greek religion appears to have developed out of Proto-Indo-European religion and although very little is known about the earliest periods there are suggestive hints that some local elements go back even further than the Bronze Age or Helladic period to the farmers of Neolithic Greece.
There was also clearly cultural evolution from the Late Helladic Mycenaean religion of the Mycenaean civilization. Both the literary settings of some important myths and many important sanctuaries relate to locations that were important Helladic centres that had become otherwise unimportant by Greek times.
The Mycenaeans perhaps treated Poseidon, to them a god of earthquakes as well as the sea, as their chief deity, and forms of his name along with several other Olympians are recognisable in records in Linear B , although Apollo and Aphrodite are absent.
Only about half of the Mycenaean pantheon seem to survive the Greek Dark Ages though. The archaeological evidence for continuity in religion is far clearer for Crete and Cyprus than the Greek mainland. Greek religious concepts may also have absorbed the beliefs and practices of earlier, nearby cultures, such as Minoan religion ,  and other influences came from the Near East, especially via Cyprus.
The Great Goddess hypothesis , that a Stone Age religion dominated by a female Great Goddess was displaced by a male-dominated Indo-European hierarchy, has been proposed for Greece as for Minoan Crete and other regions, but has not been in favour with specialists for some decades, though the question remains too poorly-evidenced for a clear conclusion; at the least the evidence from Minoan art shows more goddesses than gods. However, several of the Homeric hymns , probably composed slightly later, are dedicated to him.
Archaic and Classical Greece saw the development of flourishing cities and of stone-built temples to the gods, which were rather consistent in design across the Greek world. Religion was closely tied to civic life, and priests were mostly drawn from the local elite. Religious works led the development of Greek sculpture , though apparently not the now-vanished Greek painting.
While much religious practice was, as well as personal, aimed at developing solidarity within the polis , a number of important sanctuaries developed a "Panhellenic" status, drawing visitors from all over the Greek world.
These served as an essential component in the growth and self-consciousness of Greek nationalism. The mainstream religion of the Greeks did not go unchallenged within Greece. As Greek philosophy developed its ideas about ethics , the Olympians were bound to be found wanting.
Several notable philosophers criticised a belief in the gods. The earliest of these was Xenophanes , who chastised the human vices of the gods as well as their anthropomorphic depiction. Plato wrote that there was one supreme god, whom he called the " Form of the Good ", and which he believed was the emanation of perfection in the universe.
Plato's disciple, Aristotle , also disagreed that polytheistic deities existed, because he could not find enough empirical evidence for it. He believed in a Prime Mover , which had set creation going, but was not connected to or interested in the universe. In the Hellenistic period between the death of Alexander the Great in BC and the Roman conquest of Greece BC Greek religion developed in various ways, including expanding over at least some of Alexander's conquests.
The new dynasties of diadochi , kings and tyrants often spent lavishly on temples, often following Alexander in trying to insinuate themselves into religious cult; this was much easier for the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, where the traditional ancient Egyptian religion had long had deified monarchs. The enormous raised Pergamon Altar now in Berlin and the Altar of Hieron in Sicily are examples of unprecedentedly large constructions of the period.
New cults of imported deities such as Isis from Egypt , Atargatis from Syria, and Cybele from Anatolia became increasingly important, as well as several philosophical movements such as Platonism , stoicism , and Epicureanism ; both tended to detract from the traditional religion, although many Greeks were able to hold beliefs from more than one of these groups.
Serapis was essentially a Hellenistic creation, if not devised then spread in Eygpt for political reasons by Ptolemy I Soter as a hybrid of Greek and local styles of deity. Various philosophical movements, including the Orphics and Pythagoreans , began to question the ethics of animal sacrifice, and whether the gods really appreciated it; from the surviving texts Empedocles and Theophrastus both vegetarians were notable critics. Although the traditional myths, festivals and beliefs all continued, these trends probably reduced the grip on the imagination of the traditional pantheon, especially among the educated, but probably more widely in the general population.
When the Roman Republic conquered Greece in BC, it took much of Greek religion along with many other aspects of Greek culture such as literary and architectural styles and incorporated it into its own. Some of the gods, such as Apollo and Bacchus , had earlier been adopted by the Romans. There were also many deities that existed in the Roman religion before its interaction with Greece that were not associated with a Greek deity, including Janus and Quirinus.
The Romans generally did not spend much on new temples in Greece, other that those for their Imperial cult , which were placed in all important cities. Exceptions include Antoninus Pius r.
It could be said the Greek world was by this time well furnished with sanctuaries. Roman governors and emperors often pilfered famous statues from sanctuaries, sometimes leaving contemporary reproductions in their place.
Verres , governor of Sicily from 73 to 70 BC, was an early example who, unusually, was prosecuted after his departure. After the huge Roman conquests beyond Greece, new cults from Egypt and Asia became popular in Greece as well as the western empire, and a decline of Greco-Roman polytheism becomes evident from the 2nd century AD, that was as much a cause as a result of the rise of Early Christianity.
The edicts of the Christian Emperor Theodosius I from onwards finally outlawed most public religious practices of the old religion, such as sacrifices; the last Olympic Games were held in AD. Greek religion and philosophy have experienced a number of revivals, most notably in the arts, humanities and spirituality of the Renaissance. More recently, a revival has begun with the contemporary Hellenism , as it is often called a term first used by the last pagan Roman emperor Julian.
In Greece, the term used is Hellene ethnic religion Greek: However, there are many fewer followers than Greek Orthodox Christianity. According to estimates reported by the U. State Department , there are perhaps as many as 2, followers of the ancient Greek religion out of a total Greek population of 11 million;  however, Hellenism's leaders place that figure at , followers.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Mycenaean gods Decline of Hellenistic polytheism Julian restoration. The Spiritual Significance of Greek Religion. For more exotic local forms of sacrifice, see the Laphria festival , Xanthika , and Lykaia. New Approaches , Eds. Polytheism in modern Greece. City states Politics Military. List of ancient Greeks. Philosophers Playwrights Poets Tyrants. Ancient Greek religion and mythology. Dragons in Greek mythology Greek mythological creatures Greek mythological figures List of minor Greek mythological figures.
Aphrodite Aphroditus Philotes Peitho. Angelia Arke Hermes Iris. Apate Dolos Hermes Momus. Most visitors are Greek and it retains an authentic atmosphere.
It is well worth having a peek — the cliff-hanging monasteries are spectacular. Where to eat Tzanis is a seafood taverna right by the water. The clams are particularly good.
This small island consists of only three villages and a population of just over 1, Most can only be reached by foot or by boat, so it will take you a while to review them all. The contemporary interior design gives a light and airy feel.
Where to eat Lakis Taverna is a solid, family taverna at the heart of the village. Paros is well known, but relatively few make it to the island opposite. For those in the know, including a fair few celebrities, Antiparos provides a relaxing haven in this often busy group of islands. What to do The large cave in the centre of the island is awe-inspiring, but be warned, there are lots of steps.
It also has a great restaurant, lots of family-friendly beach activities and a massage service. Where to eat Two good signs to look for when hunting down a seafood taverna are octopus hanging out to dry outside, and the ability to toss your olive stones and fishbones straight into the sea from your table.
Captain Pipinos is a win on both counts. Its proximity to Athens, fabulous beaches and famous thermal springs mean that this island gets rammed with visitors — mainly Greek — in August. Come out of season, however, and it can be perfect. What to do Take a sea taxi to Kolona, a narrow strip of sand connecting to a small island. The two bays on either side have azure water which is rarely without a few yachts at anchor.
And it is exactly what you expect from a Greek hotel: Its aspect is one reason so many artists choose to settle on the island. What to do Livadi, the port town, is a pleasing throwback to what the Greek islands used to be like. Its heart is the grandly named Yacht Club, in fact an old-style kafenion. It is the ideal place to sip a Greek coffee and chat to the locals. This is another island that, while relatively unknown to Brits, is an achingly trendy destination for the Greek set.
It can get crowded, but the atmosphere is authentic and it has a culinary reputation — one of the first famous Greek chefs, Nicholas Tselementes , came from here, and it still attracts the foodies.
What to do Sifnos has a fantastically well-maintained and mapped selection of hiking trails to suit all levels of fitness. An excellent guidebook is available locally. Where to stay The main town, Apollonia, is where the trendy go to see and be seen, wandering up and down the Steno, its buzzing, narrow main street.
Where to eat Rambagas is the smart spot to experience local food mixed with the latest on-point experiments. Start with a sea-bass tartare in traditional lemon and oil sauce, and end with chilled melon soup for dessert.
The setting, just off the Steno, is gorgeous too. Folegandros has similarly dramatic cliffs and hillsides to the magnificent volcanic landscape of Santorini , and is far less visited. What to do The main town, another Hora, perches on the cliffs, and wandering around its pedestrianised centre from square to square beneath the bougainvillea is what Greek dreams are made of.
This dramatic island does have good beaches, but is better known for its hiking and diving French film The Big Blue was shot here. What to do The extraordinary whitewashed monastery of Hozoviotissa, which dates back to the 11th century, clings to the cliffs of the dramatic south coast. Out of season, the rooms are a real bargain.
Where to eat The green tables and chairs of Tranzistoraki fill a little side-alley in the main town. The cute setting is matched by some interesting local food and a good selection of meze. Actually made up of three islands, although only one is inhabited, Koufonisia is increasingly a destination for Greeks, including many who camp on the amazing beaches here during the summer, inspiring a laid-back s vibe.
The locals take it in their stride, and many of the or so still fish for a living. What to do Take a boat ride to the other two islands. Kato Koufonisi has the best beaches, and dramatic Keros was where many of the finest early Cycladic statuettes were discovered — now to be viewed in Athens, these inspired artists such as Picasso and Brancusi. The only settlement is a one-kilometre walk above the little port, but most hotels will meet you off the ferry.
There is a boat tour as well, for the lazy. Where to eat Deli Restaurant and Bar has a cool bar downstairs, and chic restaurant upstairs — and a surprisingly sophisticated take on Greek food for such a small island. Along with some of the larger Dodecanese , Tilos is greener and more lush than many Greek islands, and is renowned for its wildlife, from flowers to birds. Its gentle landscape rewards hiking, and it offers small villages and unexploited beaches. What to do If you want to get away from the beaches, the ruined medieval capital of the island, Mikro Horio, is a fascinating place to explore, and a not unreasonable hike up into the hills above Livadia, the port.
Its gigantes giant beans are particularly famous. Halki is one of those islands you fall for instantly. Its sleepy atmosphere makes exploring a delight. What to do The interior of the island is capped by a castle built by the Knights of St John, which perches above the ruined remains of Horio, once the capital.
If you have lunch, they may well let you use their beach chairs and umbrellas free. Thus the island gets many visitors — some of them genuine pilgrims, and many just curious tourists from huge cruise ships. Few stay, however, and fewer still venture further than the central monasteries — a shame, as the island abounds in good beaches, and the interior is a rural idyll. What to do You must walk up from the port to see the monasteries. One contains the cave where St John received his visions, and the top one is impressively fortified against pirates.
Where to stay It is much more atmospheric to stay in the old town surrounding the monasteries than down in the port.
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